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Just finished reading How It All Began: A Novelby Penelope Lively. I find it hard to describe this book – it’s wonderful. I loved it. But describing it is perplexing. The title relates to one of the characters, a woman of a certain age, who is mugged, and has to go live with her daughter and son in law for awhile since she’s stuck with crutches and has mobility problems. That starts the cavalcade of events that spread around her, with the characters. And she knows nothing whatsoever about them, hardly. They’re all somewhat inter-related (not much family, but mostly by circumstance) and they all get into some rather logical and some peculiar relationships. You engage  with each and every one of them; at least I sure did; and was trying to tell some of them to back away from what they were about to do. Or “be careful;” or “don’t go there.” That kind of thing. There is nothing insidious, no mystery involved – it’s all about these people and what happens to them. I was sad when the book was finished. The author, Lively, does add a chapter at the end – I wonder if it wasn’t part of the master plan – that kind of tidies up everything, and you get to see all of the characters move on with their lives, happy or not, but mostly happy. Really enjoyed the book. Am not sure it would be a good book club read, as the only thing to discuss are the characters themselves. Lively paints these characters well; you can just picture them as they get themselves in and out of relationship mischief.

The Last Midwife: A Novel by Sandra Dallas. It’s a very, very good read. It tells the story of an older married woman who lives in a small mining town in the Colorado rockies (this is the mid-1800’s), and is well known by all because she’s the only midwife in the area. Often people can’t pay her anything, or very little for her days of service with little or no rest or food. Suddenly, a couple accuse her of strangling their infant (she arrived after the birth, actually). Hence the story is about how this small town rallies or rails for or against Gracy. She didn’t commit the crime, but not everyone can be convinced since the father is a wealthy man in the area who carries a lot of clout. There’s plenty of relationship issues here, which make really great fodder for a novel. And there are plenty of characters in the book that you’ll love or hate. Some secrets get dredged up too. Oh, such a good read.

On my recent road trip, I visited one of my local libraries and borrowed 5 books on tape. We listened to 3 of them. I’m a big fan of Craig Johnson, the author of a series of mysteries taking place in Wyoming, and a TV series on Netflix called Longmire. This book, A Serpent’s Tooth: A Longmire Mystery was really complex. Hard to explain, but it’s about graft and greed and oil. Worth reading, for sure. Also read Stone Kiss by Faye Kellerman, another complex mystery about Lt Decker, an LA cop who journeys to NYC to help out his family when a murder occurs. Lots of violence in this one.  Not particularly a fav book, I’d venture. Then read Leaving Time: A Novel by Jodi Picoult. I’ve read most of her books – always very riveting. In this book, you’ll learn a whole lot about elephants since the protagonist in it is a young girl whose mother disappeared when she was quite young. Her parents ran an elephant sanctuary in New Hampshire. In the ensuing years, Jenna has tried to find clues as to her mother’s whereabouts because she just cannot believe her mother would have up and abandoned her. There are a whole cast of characters (her mother, her father, employees at the sanctuary, a cop or two, and a psychic). All play fairly prominent roles. Fascinating book – I really liked it, almost as much for the education about the behavior of elephants as about the mystery. A great read.

Also on the trip, I read a book (on Kindle) for one of my book clubs, The Swans of Fifth Avenue: A Novel by Melanie Benjamin. It’s about the relationship between Truman Capote and his “swans,” a group of middle-aged high society ladies, and specifically Beth Paley. I don’t know whether to recommend this book or not. Truman Capote was not a nice man, although the whole novel (vs. non-fiction, which this is not) is conjured from speculation about the years Truman was kind of adopted by the group of women. He cared about all of them (most were married/divorced, and wealthy) but in the end he betrays them all by writing a novella about their secrets, their marriages, their affairs (theirs or their spouses, information they’d all shared with him, thinking he could be trusted with their innermost secrets). It was scandalous, and yes, all that part is true. I finished the book, but almost felt like I’d read a “dirty book.” There is no graphic detail in this book – it’s just what Capote did to destroy these women, supposedly his dear, darling “swans.” He was the villain in the book, and in his old age . . . well, I won’t spoil the story if you’re interested in reading it.

 

Tasting Spoons

My blog's namesake - small, old and some very dented engraved silver plated tea spoons that belonged to my mother-in-law, and I use them to taste my food as I'm cooking.

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Posted in Appetizers, on June 17th, 2016.

roasted_chickpeas_zatar

Oh, I want to just reach right into that picture and grab a small handful. Don’t you? They look oiled and maybe even mushy, but trust me, they’re crispy and just tossed with a tiny bit of oil and all the spices just before serving.

A few weeks ago I went to a cooking class – with a French chef – although she made a dinner of what she called Mediterranean food. Mostly I’d say the dinner was Moroccan. She cooked with a lot of zaatar, sumac, baharat and a tiny bit of fennel pollen. And one dish that was accented with apple cider molasses, which I’d never even heard of before. You’ll have the recipes eventually. All except for the pilaf she made, which was okay, but I think my own recipe, for Mujadara is better. Mujadara is a Lebanese version of pilaf. Hers was called a lentil pilaf with baharat (an herb & spice mix) and then she sprinkled some very pricey fennel pollen on top. I don’t think I got any on my portion – at least I couldn’t see any.

So, back to these chickpeas. Start off with 2 cans of garbanzos (chickpeas), drained, rinsed, and then you must let them rest and dry for an hour or so on paper towels – to DRY. Then the beans are spread out onto rimmed baking sheets lined with parchment – don’t crowd them – you’ll need at least 2 trays to do this right. They they’re roasted for quite awhile. If you’re using both trays in one oven then switch them back and forth and front to back so they all get dried and toasty. It takes about 35-45 minutes depending on your oven. Taste one now and then – you don’t want to to taste like corn nuts – that’s too much baking. But you definitely want them crispy all the way through. I’ll try this on convection bake and see how they do. Definitely don’t let them burn – that would be a total waste of them! Once they’re finally done, you need to remove a few of the skins that will have fallen off – you don’t want to serve those. The roasted beans are then tossed with a tablespoon or two or three of extra virgin olive oil and some Zaatar.

zaatar_componentsNow then, the Zaatar. I think I’ve posted a recipe for it before, but I can’t find it, if I did. At this class we got Caroline’s recipe for it, which is in the recipe below. It’s a combination of sumac, dried thyme, dried marjoram, dried oregano, roasted sesame seeds and salt.

You can see the parts of the mixture at left – Caroline made a big batch of it because she used it in several dishes. You can buy already-prepared Zaatar (also written as za’atar and zatar). Penzey’s has it, and at some better markets you’ll likely find it. You DO need sumac, though, and that’s not exactly something everyone has. In the photo, the sumac (the red stuff) is the largest component. You may find some zaatar without sumac, but I truly don’t think it would be authentic. Sumac has a kind of lemony taste – tart – but altogether delicious. It’s used in lots of Mediterranean cooking, but mostly from the southern side, like Syria, Morocco and Egypt. I’d guess sumac bushes must grow profusely in that climate.

The recipe below makes more than you’ll need for this appetizer – you can halve the recipe, or just use the rest of it for something else within a few months. You can prepare the zaatar a few days ahead of time.

What’s GOOD: loved the crunchy texture and the combo of the zaatar on them. They’re addicting, just so you know . . .

What’s NOT: nothing other than you’ll need to source the zaatar somewhere or make your own, in which case you’ll need sumac. Don’t try to make this without the sumac.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Roasted Chickpeas with Zaatar

Recipe By: From a cooking class with Caroline C., Califrench Cuisine
Serving Size: 6

28 ounces chickpeas, canned — rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons Zaatar — (see recipe below)
1/2 teaspoon salt — plus a little
ZAATAR:
1/4 cup sumac
2 tablespoons dried thyme
1 tablespoon sesame seeds, roasted
2 tablespoons dried marjoram
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon sea salt

NOTES: The Zaatar recipe makes more than you’ll need for this recipe – make half a recipe if you don’t think you’ll use it for other things.
1. Spread rinsed and drained chickpeas on paper towels to dry for at least an hour.
2. Preheat oven to 400F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place the chickpeas on the pan.
3. Bake in the center of the oven for about 45-50 minutes, stirring and rotating them every 10 minutes. Taste a chickpea to see if it’s drying enough. If they’re crunchy, they’re done, but they should be crunchy all the way through. Do not over bake, however. Taste as you go.
4. Remove from oven and remove any loose skins that have broken loose during roasting.
5. Place hot chickpeas in a bowl and drizzle with the oil, Zaatar and salt. Serve hot or warm.
Per Serving: 197 Calories; 6g Fat (27.1% calories from fat); 7g Protein; 30g Carbohydrate; 6g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 575mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on June 13th, 2016.

edamame_hummus

Healthy, but you’d never know it. Rich and creamy. Slightly green because edamame are green. No dairy in it at all – just oil and seasonings. Divine.

A few weeks ago I spent Mother’s Day with son Powell (and family) at his wife’s sister Janice’s home. They did a fabulous full-on Indian dinner catered by a great restaurant here in my neck of the woods called The Royal Khyber. Janice’s husband, though English by birth, is Indian and he’s on a first name basis with all of the staff and owners at the restaurant. When we go there we usually just tell Julian to order for us. He always orders lamb vindaloo (one of his favorites). I was particularly enamored with the ground lamb appetizer skewers. Am not sure what they were called, but they were tender, juicy and fabulous. I ate some of everything.

Janice had made this hummus with edamame which she served with a variety of fresh vegetables for dipping. She said she’d tried several similar recipes and finally settled on this one – I think it may have come from the food network, though I’m not sure. In any case, I really, really liked it, so asked Janice for the recipe, which she kindly sent.

I made this in the late morning and had that little plate full for my lunch, though I didn’t quite finish all the hummus in that bowl. I have heaps left for another day. I particularly liked it with the Persian cucumber slices, and with the more tender interior of the celery hearts. The last few bags of celery I’ve purchased have been particularly chewy and stringy. I buy organic celery because the stuff contains so much water and I want it to be non-influenced by pesticides, etc. I had to de-string several of the outer stalks and even then they were tough. Throw that bag out except for the very center.

The hummus – well, just to recap – usually it’s made with garbanzo beans – and it would be yellow. This, made with edamame was made from cooked and frozen beans (Trader Joe’s), merely defrosted and plopped into the blender along with all the other ingredients and whizzed up. I added more oil and water, and more salt and lemon juice, so I added those notes to the recipe below. I didn’t exactly measure the edamame – I think the 12 ounce bag contained about 2 cups, so I used most of it. A half a pound of cooked edamame is about 1 1/2 cups, exactly what was needed for this recipe.

I’m sure that tomorrow it will taste better once the flavors have melded together. It was so refreshing and filling. Amazingly filling, I thought. It probably would freeze okay too, just in case you need to do that. This is a really great recipe and it makes me feel good to know that I ate a very healthy lunch today. Thanks, Janice!!

What’s GOOD: the flavor, first and foremost. Very clean, tasty, creamy and filling. I particularly liked it with the cucumbers, but any veggies would be fine, even cauliflower. I don’t know about broccoli, but maybe. Carrots for sure, and celery. It might even be good in a sandwich with some lettuce, tomato and sliced mild, white cheese. It might ooze, however, just so you know.

What’s NOT: nothing I can think of – easy to make, healthy for sure. It makes a lot, so reduce the quantity if you are feeding a small group or your small family. Am sure it will keep for a several days.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 15/16 file (click link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Edamame Hummus

Recipe By: From a family member, Janice G
Serving Size: 10

1 1/2 cups edamame — (green soy beans), 1/2 pound = approx 1 1/2 cups
1/4 cup tahini
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest — freshly grated
3 tablespoons lemon juice — or more if needed
1 clove garlic — smashed
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil — or more if needed
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley — chopped fresh
2 teaspoons flat-leaf parsley — for garnishing the serving bowl
Suggested serving: Sliced cucumbers, celery, carrot sticks and olives

1. If the edamame is raw, cook it in boiling water for about 4 minutes.
2. In a blender combine the tahini, lemon zest and juice, garlic, salt, parsley, spices and the edamame.
3. Drizzle in the oil and continue to blend until it’s the consistency you prefer. Add more water or oil and/or lemon juice to taste. The mixture should be soft, not overly thick. Taste for seasonings [mine needed more lemon juice, salt and oil].
4. Sprinkle with more parsley when serving with vegetables of your choice.
Per Serving: 117 Calories; 9g Fat (66.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 5g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 151mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on March 23rd, 2016.

shrimp_toast

Chinese in origin (I think), these little appetizer tidbits of goodness are quite easy to make. What they’re not is healthy in any way, shape, or form! There’s nothing bad in the ingredients – it’s just the frying that makes them rich, decadent, but ever-so tasty.

This appetizer is the oldest cooking class recipe I have in my collection. In fact, I didn’t even have this one entered into my MasterCook program – mostly because I hadn’t made these for about 40 years. Gosh, that one fact tells you I’m “old.” When I married the first time, way back in 1962, my then husband and I lived in Washington, D.C. for about a year. I worked for the Dept. of Agriculture during that time, and spending money on cooking classes wasn’t exactly within my budget. Then we moved to Washington State for awhile, then to Denver. It was there, back in the mid-60’s that I went to my first cooking class. I have no recollection how I found out about the class (given in someone’s home), and I still have 2 recipes from a class (or maybe more than one class). This one, and a chile relleno recipe made with canned chiles. Interestingly enough, both of the recipes were cooked in an electric frypan. Those things were very popular back then. So maybe both were made that one night and the class could have been focused on how to use the electric frypan in meal preparation. The recipe, stained with age and use (way back then) had somewhat cryptic notes – not a full-on detailed recipe as we might be used to today.

A few weeks ago – when I made these – I had a Vietnamese friend of mine come to my house and prepare a Vietnamese meal for a group of my friends. I’ll tell you about that in another post. She made spring rolls and beef pho (soup, pronounced like fuh). I rounded out the meal with appetizers (these shrimp toasts) and dessert (my lemon velvet ice cream and safari seeded cookies). So, when I was trying to figure out what to make I first searched online for Vietnamese appetizers, and mostly google came up with spring rolls. Well, we were already doing those as a first course, so I had to search farther afield, and ding-ding, this recipe came to mind. Even though it’s Chinese, not Vietnamese. Made no “never mind,” as the saying goes. They disappeared in a flash.

I forgot to take any photos of the prep process, or the frying. I was kind of busy trying to get these made just as guests were arriving, so just didn’t take the time. Here’s what’s involved. First you mince up some fresh, raw shrimp, about 1/2 cup. Then you add a couple of tablespoons of minced green onion, a dash of salt, a tablespoon of sherry (wine), a tablespoon of cornstarch and lastly, just before you’re ready to start making and frying these, 2 egg whites that have been beaten up until foamy.

shrimp_toast_mustard_dipI made these a couple of nights later and used the same recipe – I just didn’t turn the little toasts over to brown the other side – so here you can see the bread (on the bottom) is still just bread. And I didn’t heed my own directions – of spreading the shrimp mixture out to all the edges, so you see the bread in the oil almost got too brown. White bread slices are used – remove the crusts, then the inner portion is cut into small squares, about 1” square. You’ll get about 6 out of each slice of bread. Meanwhile, you heat up a frying pan with oil. You don’t need but about 1/4 inch of oil. I have a nice big newer electric frypan now, and I used that because you can maintain a consistent 350° with the oil – the recipe called for peanut oil, but that stuff is so darned expensive these days, I opted to use vegetable oil instead. It takes about 10 minutes to heat the oil. Then, using a spreader/knife, you spread some (a fairly tiny dab, actually) of the shrimp/egg white mixture onto the top of the little square of bread, and each one is placed shrimp side down into the hot oil.

It takes about 30 seconds for the shrimp to be done – and the edges begin to turn golden brown. In the first batch I did fry them on the other side. If you want to reduce the amount of fat you would consume with these, just cook the shrimp side only. The bread, which is not in oil at all will still be soft. You could try it that way and taste it. Do let them cool for a couple of minutes before eating them, as they’re WAY hot! You can make these in bigger squares (like 4 per slice of bread) but I think the little bitty ones make for easier finger food. Do serve napkins as they might ooze some oil onto your hands.

In the 2nd photo you can see the mustard dipping sauce. You don’t have to use the sauce, but it was pretty darned good. It added a little “bite” to the toasts.

What’s GOOD: crunchy, tasty, little bites of shrimp goodness. Don’t use canned shrimp! I loved these things, but they’re full of fat. The nutrition info below doesn’t include the oil I cooked them in – so am sure it’s higher in calorie and fat than indicated. Don’t serve too many per person – they’re very filling.

What’s NOT: just that they must be made immediately before serving. The recipe said they can be reheated, but no, sealed up in foil they won’t be anywhere near as good (and crunchy) as fresh out of the frying pan. You don’t have to use an electric frypan – it’s just harder to maintain an even heat using a small frying pan over a flame.

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shrimp Toast with Mustard Dipping Sauce

Recipe By: From a cooking class I took in the 1970s
Serving Size: 8

6 slices white bread — crusts removed, cut into 1-inch squares (use day-old, preferably)
FILLING/TOPPING:
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons green onions — finely minced
1/2 cup fresh shrimp — (or crab) minced
1 tablespoon sherry
1 1/2 teaspoons salt — (optional)
2 whole egg whites — beaten until foamy
Peanut oil for frying (about 1/2 cup) – or vegetable oil
HOT MUSTARD SAUCE:
3 tablespoons dry mustard
rice wine vinegar – add enough to make a wet dipping sauce

1. FILLING: Combine all ingredients except the egg whites and mix thoroughly. Everything must be minced up finely. Just before you’re ready to start frying, add foamy egg whites and mix in gently, but thoroughly.
2. Prepare frying pan. Ideally, heat an electric skillet to 360° and add enough oil to about 1/4 inch deep. You may also use a neutral oil, but the peanut oil imparts a lovely flavor.
3. Spread the filling on top of each toast piece and spread to the edges.
4. When the oil is hot, fry the toasts filling side DOWN until the edges have turned golden brown, about 30-45 seconds. It’s not necessary to fry the other side, but if you prefer, you can, but it won’t take long. Remove toasts and drain on paper towel for about 5 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, mix up mustard sauce by combining the dry mustard with rice wine vinegar until it’s the consistency of a slurry. Place in a small flat plate or a wide, but small bowl for dipping.
6. Serve toasts hot with the mustard sauce.
7. LEFTOVERS: They can be reheated in foil a 300° oven for about 10 minutes – but they won’t be crispy.
Per Serving (doesn’t include the little bit of oil that will be absorbed into the toasts during frying): 88 Calories; 1g Fat (15.1% calories from fat); 6g Protein; 12g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 23mg Cholesterol; 537mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on February 4th, 2016.

shrimp_cocktail_avocados_tomatoes_lime

An elegant appetizer, a time to use those really good, BIG shrimp that you’ve saved for a special occasion. Diced tomatoes are added in and the piquant lime juice adds a zing.

It’s been a couple of months ago now, that my friend Cherrie and I went to the Phillis Carey Diva class. She prepared this that day, and I’d forgotten all about it, to share with you. It’s very easy to make – just have good shrimp to use (none of those little bitty things, or canned),  but you don’t want or need to use the gigantic shrimp, either. In fact, you can cut the shrimp into more bite-sized pieces, so there’s no need to buy the most expensive ones. Phillis always prefers to start with raw shrimp (all the shells removed, including the tail shell) and she sautés them in olive oil. Out they go to a waiting bowl. To the skillet you add lime juice and zest, add it to the shrimp, then you add some chopped white onion, serrano chile, garlic and more olive oil. That’s really it.

Phillis prefers to serve this with some fresh chopped tomato, the avocados, of course, and garnishes it with some sliced black olives (optional) and cilantro. Serve with a lime wedge. It can be made UP to 24 hours ahead (without the avocado and tomato and garnishes, though).

What’s GOOD: well, if you’re a lover of shrimp, then you’ll be in hog-heaven. If you like ceviche (a raw fish appetizer), this kind of is similar in that the lime juice somewhat “cooks” the fish. In this recipe you do cook the shrimp completely before adding in everything else. It’s a very satisfying appetizer – good textures. Lots of flavor.

What’s NOT: probably just the cost of shrimp these days! And finding good avocados without bruises! That seems to be a challenge for me of late.

printer friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click on link to open recipe)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Shrimp Cocktail with Avocados, Tomatoes, Olives and Fresh Lime

Recipe By: Phillis Carey cooking class, 12/2015
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 pounds medium shrimp — cleaned, tails removed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons lime zest
1 cup fresh lime juice
1 cup white onion — chopped
1 whole serrano chile — finely chopped (with or without seeds)
2 cloves garlic — minced
2 whole avocados — diced and rinsed with water
1 1/4 cups plum tomatoes — seeded, diced
1/2 cup black olives — sliced (optional)
1/2 cup cilantro — chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
8 pieces lime wedges — garnish

1. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Add shrimp and season with salt and pepper. Saute until shrimp are just barely opaque in center, about 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp and any juices to a bowl and set aside.
2. Add lime juice and zest to the skillet and bring to a simmer, scraping up any browned bits. Pour over the shrimp in the bowl. Add the onion, chile, garlic and additional amount of olive oil to the shrimp. Cool to room temp before serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to 24 hours (no longer than that).
3. When ready to serve, gently fold in the sliced avocados, tomatoes, olives (if using) and cilantro. Spoon mixture evenly in martinii glasses or small bowls and serve with a lime wedge on the side.
Per Serving: 319 Calories; 19g Fat (52.4% calories from fat); 25g Protein; 14g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 173mg Cholesterol; 255mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on December 11th, 2015.

cranberry_jalapeno_salsa_appetizer

Are you ready for December entertaining? If you’d like to make a really tasty, cranberry-seasonal appetizer that’s SUPER EASY, try this cranberry salsa that has a bit of kick from jalapeno. Absolutely super.

For Thanksgiving, every year, I make my cranberry relish. It’s a raw relish, and I remember my mother making something similar one year when I was probably a teenager. I took her recipe (cranberries, oranges, sugar) and made a few additions (ground ginger and apple) and that’s been my go-to cranberry relish ever since. Now when I found THIS appetizer recipe, back in 2008, it sounded so similar to that regular raw cranberry relish, but it’s an appetizer. And it has jalapeno chile in it. And cumin. Oh, and cilantro. It’s such an unlikely combination, but it sure does work.

If you’re having a smaller crowd, make half the recipe below – I used the full 12 ounces of cranberries – and I have quite a lot of this.

What’s the best part – how EASY it is to make. First whiz up a medium jalapeno (more if you like spicy) and a couple of green onions – they need to be finely minced. Then add in the fresh cranberries, sugar, cilantro and ground cumin. Whiz that up for 15+ seconds, pulsing, maybe scraping down the sides at least once, and it’s DONE. Scoop out into a container and refrigerate it for at least a few hours, preferably overnight – which gives the sugar a chance to dissolve and the flavors to come together. If you like spice (heat) add 2 jalapenos. When I tasted it – when I made it – I thought whoa – this is going to be too hot, but when it’s spread on a cracker with cream cheese, it totally mellows out the heat. Next time I will be adding more jalapeno to it.

At least 2 hours before you’re ready to serve this take out the 8-ounce block of cream cheese and let it sit out in its package, to soften. Yes, it will be fine – and it will be soft and spreadable when that time is  up. Put it out on a serving plate and nicely spread the salsa on top and add crackers or tortilla chips and you’re done. I happened to have some of Trader Joe’s pumpkin raisin cracker/toasts which were just super with this.

What’s GOOD: everything about this is good – easy, quick, and extremely tasty. I couple of days after I made this and served it, I had it for lunch. That was my lunch – crackers, cheese (protein) and fruit, albeit with sugar added in. I’ll definitely be making this again and again.

What’s NOT: I can’t think of anything that isn’t great about this appetizer. Make it, okay?

printer-friendly PDF and MasterCook 14/15 file (click link to open)

* Exported from MasterCook *

Cranberry Salsa with Cream Cheese

Recipe By: Adapted very slightly from Cookbook Junkies (blog)
Serving Size: 10

12 ounces fresh cranberries
3/4 cup sugar
1 medium jalapeno chile pepper — chopped (use more if you enjoy the heat)
2 tbsp cilantro
1 tsp ground cumin
2 green onions — chopped
8 ounces cream cheese
A cilantro leaf or two for garnish
Tortilla chips, crackers or petite toasts for serving

NOTE: make the cranberry salsa the day before, if possible, or at least 6-8 hours ahead so the sugar has time to dissolve and the flavors to meld. If you like spicy food, add more jalapeno. Some recipes call for 2 of them. If you taste the mixture you may think it’s spicy with just one jalapeno, but once you add cream cheese to the bite, you’ll hardly notice the heat from the jalapeno.
1. Allow cream cheese block to sit out at room temp (in the package) for a full 2 hours to soften.
2. SALSA: In a food processor add the jalapeno and green onions first, and whiz those up first so they’re very small. Then add all of the ingredients, except the cream cheese and blend until it’s finely minced, but so the cranberries still have just a little bit of form.
2. You can buy whipped cream cheese, or whip it yourself, or just use fully softened cream cheese and place on the plate.
3. Pour the salsa over the cream cheese and serve with tortilla chips, crackers, or petite toasts.
Per Serving: 157 Calories; 8g Fat (44.6% calories from fat); 2g Protein; 20g Carbohydrate; 2g Dietary Fiber; 25mg Cholesterol; 69mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on November 3rd, 2015.

safari_hummus

The chef at Sandibe (pronounced san-dee-bey), the safari camp where this was served, just called it hummus, but because peanuts are such a major player in the cuisine of Africa, I started calling it safari hummus. Instead of tahini, they used peanut butter. It’s a surprising change of flavor.

I don’t think I expected to be served hummus in Africa. Maybe in a cosmopolitan city yes, but out in the bush? Yet it was very refreshing. They served it with fresh vegetables – icy cold carrots and celery, which tasted particularly good after being out on a morning game drive. I made this the other day to take to a luncheon (my friend Cherrie had a Halloween lunch for a bunch of her girlfriends). Several people commented on it – that they liked this and hoped I would be posting it here. Here you go, friends.

The safari camps must be used to people asking for recipes for their dishes – they delivered them usually the next day after I asked. I came home with several, as I mentioned last week.

This takes no time whatsoever to make. But if you did it exactly as they made it with roasted garlic (instead of fresh, which is what I used) it would take a bit longer. It was hot the morning I made this and I just didn’t feel like roasting the garlic, easy as it is to do – I didn’t want to heat up the kitchen. I’ve left the recipe as-is, below, so you can decide whether you want to roast it or not. Do use soft peanut butter (like JIF creamy), not the natural stuff, and not any peanut butter with nut chunks in it. The hummus is made completely in the food processor – it contains a fair amount of lemon juice which gives it some tang. And there is cayenne in it too, which gives it a kick. Make it the day before if you have the time so the flavors can meld.

What’s GOOD: the peanut butter is subtle – some people could pick it out of the flavor mélange – but some couldn’t determine what was different about it. I liked the option of pureeing the first can of garbanzo beans so it’s smooth, then adding in the 2nd can and leaving some of the chunkiness there. It gives the hummus some texture.

What’s NOT: nothing at all.

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Safari Hummus

Recipe By: From “And Beyond” safari camps, Africa, 2015
Serving Size: 12

3 cups garbanzo beans, canned — drained, saving 1/3 cup juice
3 tablespoons roasted garlic — chopped [I used 2 large cloves of fresh garlic]
1/3 cup lemon juice
1 tablespoon cumin seeds — toasted and ground
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup peanut butter — creamy, like JIF
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 cup Italian parsley — chopped [reserve some for garnish]
1 teaspoon salt

1. Blend half of the garbanzo beans with everything else on the list – except the parsley – in a food processor. Puree until very smooth, scraping down the sides if necessary.
2. Add the other half of the beans and process a short time – you want to have a bit of texture to the mixture.
3. Add the parsley and add some of the garbanzo bean liquid if the mixture is too thick. Scrape into a bowl and refrigerate for a few hours to blend the flavors. Serve with bread or crackers or with freshly cut vegetables (carrot sticks, celery sticks, cucumber rounds). Yield: 3 1/2 cups
Per Serving: 190 Calories; 13g Fat (57.6% calories from fat); 5g Protein; 16g Carbohydrate; 3g Dietary Fiber; 0mg Cholesterol; 384mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Vegetarian, on August 11th, 2015.

fresh_tomato_bruschetta_toasts

Recently I visited with friends who live in Morrison, Colorado. Sue and her husband Lynn are foodies as I am, so Sue and I spent some time preparing lunch and dinner things. One night, after we’d been out for a nice lunch and weren’t overly hungry, we didn’t feel like having a regular, big dinner. So Sue made (with me helping just to chop up the tomatoes) these delicious bruschetta appetizers. These are different only in that fresh mozzarella cheese is toasted on the little baguette slices and THEN the bruschetta stuff is scooped on top.

When my friends used to live here in California, we frequently had one another over for dinner. We always had lively conversations, and talked about the wine we were drinking, or wines we’d had or were going to buy. And trips we had taken, were taking, or were talking about taking. My DH and I visited them a few years ago in Colorado, so there were shared memories of our previous visit.

toasts_to_toastThis appetizer took relatively little time to make, from beginning to end. A lovely baguette had been purchased the day before at a farmer’s market in Boulder, along with gorgeous heirloom tomatoes. Sue had basil growing in pots on her deck, and she had fresh mozzie. Plus some garlic, Parmesan and balsamic vinegar. You can serve this hot with a bowl of the topping, or you can serve it up freshly stacked, with napkins. It was our main course, and we ate a lot of them. Sue had gotten the recipe online at Taste of Home. I’ve renamed them, only because they’re not quite a typical bruschetta – the mozzie on the bottom makes them a bit different – a bit more substantial. So I’m calling them “toasts.” You could make them on bigger pieces of baguette or other bread and they’d be open-faced bruschetta sandwiches even. Any way you make them, they’re delicious.

What’s GOOD: these would be good even if you didn’t use the mozzie underneath, but that one thing makes them a bigger, nicer tidbit of an appetizer. Or a light lunch. These were delish, and although I don’t make bruschetta very often, if I make it in the future, I think I’ll use this recipe.

What’s NOT: well, you’ve got to have all the ingredients – the fresh mozzie, the good, ripe tomatoes, garlic, fresh basil, Italian parsley etc. If so, you’re in business!

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Fresh Tomato Bruschetta Toasts

Recipe By: From Taste of Home, but from my friend Sue
Serving Size: 12 (2 per person)

4 whole plum tomatoes — seeded and chopped (Sue used heirloom)
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
3 garlic cloves — minced
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1 baguette — 12″ long, cut into 1/2-inch slices
1/4 cup butter — softened (optional)
8 ounces fresh mozzarella — sliced

1. In a small bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients.
2. Spread baguette slices with butter (Sue didn’t do this step – she thought the cheese was enough); top each with a cheese slice. Place on ungreased baking sheets. Broil 3-4 ” from the heat for 3-5 minutes or until cheese is melted.
3. With a slotted spoon, top each slice with about 1 tablespoon tomato mixture. Serve immediately with napkins if you’re making this finger food.
Per Serving: 247 Calories; 14g Fat (50.8% calories from fat); 9g Protein; 22g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 30mg Cholesterol; 429mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, on June 26th, 2015.

red_onion_confit_port

Whenever I look at a scramble of caramelized onions, my mouth waters. And actually, in the picture above, the onions aren’t caramelized – they’re cooked thoroughly, but they’re tinted dark brown with aged balsamic vinegar, so they look caramelized. No matter – this onion stuff is really tasty. It didn’t take nearly as long as usual to make it because the onions only cook for about 20 minutes.

The title doesn’t tell you that there are a few prunes in this. People get so turned off about prunes – too bad, because they’re really good, and particularly so in this confit (con-FEE). With a French word like confit, it implies that it’s a French dish – and indeed it may be. By definition confit means meat (usually duck) but it can also mean any concoction that’s cooked low and slow with some kind of oil/butter/fat. In this case there’s a little olive oil and butter, but very little. And no meat.

red_onion_confit_ingredientsThe recipe had been in my to-try file for awhile (since ‘09) – I found it at Delicious:Days (a blog). She based her recipe on the original which came from a cookbook by Catherine Atkinson called Perfect Pickles, Chutneys & Relishes. So, I suppose this could be called a chutney (it would be wonderful on a turkey sandwich) or a relish (served with pork or chicken?). It is “pickled” as such because it does contain some GOOD aged balsamic vinegar – you need the acid in order to call it pickles!

There at left are all the ingredients. Hiding on the right side are the fresh thyme and the moscovado sugar. And the tall bottle is 10-year old Port. I used tawny port because that’s what I had, without using the really aged stuff that’s for sipping/drinking, not for cooking. Some people might say I should use that for cooking, but at $40 a bottle, no, I don’t think so! For drinking (which is rare, but when I want it I want it to be good stuff) I buy good Portuguese Port (from Oporto, the town in northern Portugal from whence nearly all their production comes).

The onions are cooked over low heat with the olive oil and butter for awhile, then you add in some of the ingredients and cook for about 15 minutes, then the remaining ingredients and cook for another 10-15 minutes. By then the onions are totally cooked through and the liquids have mostly evaporated and you’ll left with that unctuous tangle of onions that’s so good on a cracker or with cheese.

The recipe suggested serving it with an aged Gouda (see picture at top) and some other kind of French cheese I’d not heard of, so I bought some domestic Brie (not imported only because I thought the onions sardinian_crackers_trader_joeswould overpower the subtlety of a truly ripe and aged Brie). I scooped some of the onion mixture on top of the Brie and the rest I left in a bowl for people to scoop with the cheeses or with crackers. You could also serve it on top of cream cheese – it just wouldn’t be as authentic. Most of our group didn’t care for the onion confit with the Gouda – they either ate the Gouda with a cracker, or they ate the Brie with the onions.

The only thing I’d change in the recipe is to cut the onions in smaller pieces. Because they stick together, it was hard to manipulate a little pile of them. It was either feast or famine with too little or too much of the onion mixture on a piece of cheese or a cracker.

Currently, I’m in love with a new cracker. Have you seen these paper-thin Sardinian crackers (above) at Trader Joe’s? They’re called Pane Guttiau. In my Trader Joe’s they’re with all the other crackers on top of one of the freezer cases. Once you open the package, keep it stored in a Zipiloc plastic bag or the crackers will soften. You can’t really see through them, but they are ridiculously thin and crispy and sometimes I have one of the crackers (pictured) and a slice of cheese for my lunch.

What’s GOOD: loved the flavor of this red onion and prune mixture. It is sweet – just know that off the top – tawny Port is sweet, so I probably made it more so by using it rather than a drier style. You don’t serve very much on any one bite, but it is sweet. But then, red onions are sweet once you cook them down anyway. Next time I won’t use tawny Port. And I’ll probably eliminate the sugar altogether.

What’s NOT: nothing at all. Recipe says it only keeps for a few days. I don’t know why it wouldn’t keep for a couple of weeks. The acid and sugar should keep it fresh for awhile. If it lasts that long.

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Red Onion Confit with Port Wine and Prunes

Recipe By: inspired by Perfect Pickles by Catherine Atkinson (on Delicious Days blog)
Serving Size: 8

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil — may use up to 3
2 cups sliced red onions — sliced about 1/4″ thick and cut into smaller pieces
5 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 tablespoons muscovado sugar — light brown sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup prunes — finely chopped
1/2 orange — juice only [I used all the juice as it was a small orange]
3 tablespoons aged balsamic vinegar — [I used a fig balsamic which is thick and sweet like aged balsamic)
3/8 cup port wine — (use a drier Port if you can find one)
Crackers to serve alongside
Brie cheese to spread it on, if desired

Notes: this mixture is sweet.  If you want it less sweet, use a dry style Port and don’t add the sugar.  Or cut down the amount by half.  I used all of the juice of an orange, and once cooked down, it added sweetness also.  Plus, the prunes are sweet as well.
1.  Heat the butter and half of the olive oil over low to medium heat in a large pot and add the sliced and chopped onions.  Cover with a lid and cook for 10 minutes while stirring occasionally.
2.  Add the thyme sprigs, the bay leaf and muscovado sugar, then season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Cook uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes until the onions are tender.  Again, don’t forget to occasionally stir – the onions are not supposed to gain (much) color.
3.  Add the finely chopped prunes and the liquids: the orange juice, the balsamic vinegar and the port wine.Reduce heat until the mixture slightly simmers and keep stirring regularly until most of the liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes.  Remove thyme stems and bay leaf and discard.
4.  Add the remaining olive oil to give a glossy finish and season to your own taste.  Perhaps more vinegar for an extra tangy note?  A bit more pepper to spice things up?  Keeps in the fridge for several days.  [I served it with crackers and with an aged Gouda and Brie.  We particularly liked it with the Brie.]
Per Serving: 123 Calories; 6g Fat (50.7% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 13g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 8mg Cholesterol; 31mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Veggies/sides, on June 22nd, 2015.

asparagus_roasted_balsamic_appetizer

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty much “over” hummus. And no, this recipe has nothing to do with hummus – I’m just ranting. I’ve just had too much of it. I don’t buy it for myself, and if I’m invited to someone’s home and that’s all they serve as an appetizer, well, guess I’d eat it. But I don’t seek it out. It’s like onion dip back in the 70s, and then vegetable platters with ranch dressing. But I do like to serve vegetables in some form as an appetizer.

So, when I was invited to a dinner, our little gourmet group, I brought appetizers this time, and that meant vegetables. As I’ve mentioned many times, my recipe to-try file on my computer is huge, but since all the recipes can be sub-categorized, I went through the appetizers and found 2 to prepare. This one and a red onion confit thing which I’ll post in a few days.

I do love vegetables. We should eat them twice a day, but I don’t. I prepare them for dinner only, and if I have left overs, then yes, they get eaten with lunch or for another dinner. But we as a population don’t eat as many of them as we should (unless you are vegetarians), so that’s why I prefer taking veggies in some form as appetizers because they’re GOOD for us, and they generally don’t fill us up as heavy, creamy dips do or bread things, or even cheese (which I did serve with the other appetizer).

These asparagus were already washed and pre-trimmed, so I did nothing but oil them a little and into a hot oven they went for 8 minutes. Meanwhile, I prepared the very simple oil and butter sautéed garlic sauce (low and slow, so you don’t brown the garlic slices at all), adding in the tiny jot of soy sauce (low sodium) and balsamic vinegar at the end. Once the asparagus was roasted, this warm sauce was poured over the top, and I used my hands to roll them around in the dressing. There isn’t very much OF it, so you do need to get all the spears covered with a bit of the mixture.

Then they go into a covered container – I suppose while they’re hot they may absorb more of the flavorings. I let the container cool down on my counter top first, then the tray went in the refrigerator for 3-4 hours.

This recipe couldn’t have been easier, although I did dirty up more dishes than I’d expected in preparing it. It can also be served as a vegetable with a dinner – maybe that’s how this recipe came about (over at food.com) – somebody had left overs and decided to serve them as an appetizer.

What’s GOOD: well, that it’s a vegetable appetizer. These are tasty. Not over the top, but they were good. Next time I’d add more garlic. I’ll be eating them (the left overs) as part of my dinner, I think. Do serve them with napkins, as your fingers will get a bit oily as you pick them up to eat out of hand. Everybody thought they tasted good.

What’s NOT: only that you want to eat them with your fingers – some people don’t like that when the item is oily, and these are. Not overly so, but you must serve with napkins.

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Roasted Balsamic Garlic Asparagus Appetizer

Recipe By: from food.com
Serving Size: 6 (4 if serving as a side dish)

1 pound asparagus — medium to thick stems (not too thin)
olive oil or olive oil spray or mister
1/4 teaspoon sea salt — to taste
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground pepper — to taste
1 teaspoon butter — not margarine
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic — peeled and sliced lengthwise into 3 pieces (amount of garlic to taste)
1/2 tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1. Preheat oven to 400° F.
2. Trim the asparagus, then rinse, and cut about an inch off the ends, then use a vegetable peeler to take the outer layer off another inch of the remaining fibrous ends.
3. Place the trimmed asparagus in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet, then spray with an olive oil mister or drizzle evenly with olive oil.
4. Season with the sea salt and the freshly ground pepper.
5. Bake for 8 minutes (don’t overcook). If the asparagus is thinner or thicker it may take less or more time, so adjust the baking time accordingly.
6. Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over very low heat melt the butter and extra virgin olive oil.
7. Add the sliced garlic and simmer (again, over very low heat) for 5 minutes – careful not to burn. Remove from heat and add the soy sauce and balsamic. The garlic will absorb color from the liquids, so don’t be alarmed that the garlic is burned – as long as it wasn’t brown before you added it, you’ll be fine!
8. When asparagus is done, remove from the oven and place in a flat container which has an airtight cover.
9. Drizzle the balsamic mixture on the asparagus and use your hands to mix the sauce over all the spears. Cover tightly, allow to come to room temp, then place in refrigerator to chill. Please note that, at first, the asparagus is still hot in the container, and that covering them and adding the sauce at this point will continue to steam them a bit for a few minutes. Serve with napkins as you’ll be picking up the spears with your fingers.
10. Chill for at least 4 hours before serving, then place attractively on serving platter. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper on top, if desired.
Per Serving: 24 Calories; 1g Fat (49.3% calories from fat); 1g Protein; 2g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 2mg Cholesterol; 172mg Sodium.

Posted in Appetizers, Breads, easy, on May 28th, 2015.

blooming_bread_pesto_mozzie

I thought I’d taken a photo of this when it was baked, but I guess I didn’t. This is one of those big monster loaves of bread, cut into little towers you pull off, with a mixture of pesto inside, then with oodles of mozzarella cheese all over it.

I was visiting with daughter Sara awhile back – I’d forgotten about posting this one – it was before I went on my April/May trip to Europe. Anyway, Sara invited all of her husband’s extended family over for a Sunday night dinner. I helped Sara some with preparations, and she handed me the ingredients for this, and said “go for it, Mom.”  I’d made one of these before, about 7-8 years ago, but it was a slightly different variation of the same – that older one with cream cheese and goat cheese, from an old friend, Karen. This one with mozzarella only. By far, this one was easier to make, but both were fabulous.

If you consider making this, please don’t look at the calories or fat, okay? Just know it’s probably not good for us, but it’s a treat. There were 4 children at Sara’s that day (ages 11-17) and they gobbled this up in no time flat. Most of the adults got a taste or two. Where I was sitting at Sara’s kitchen counter, it was put right in front of me, so I did get to sample more than some people did. I could have made a meal of it – in fact, after a few pieces I was almost full.

Sara bought the loaf of bread at Costco – a big, round loaf. You must buy an unsliced round loaf, then you slice it both directions in about 3/4 inch slices, but not down through the bottom crust, so it stays in place. I cut the bread too deep – it should have stood up a little bit better than it did, but hey, it made no-never-mind to the taste. You slather ready made pesto (Trader Joe’s and Costco both carry it now), then sprinkle shredded mozzarella all over it. Into an oven it goes, and once the mozzarella is fully melted, pull it out. Let it sit for a couple of minutes before serving as you could easily burn your mouth if it’s too hot. You’ll hear raves, I promise.

What’s GOOD: well, the taste! It’s delicious. The better the cheese you buy (like whole milk mozzarella, and/or mix in some provolone) the better it will taste. If you make your own pesto it’s probably better than store bought. But make it easy – buy ready made pesto, but don’t, please, buy already shredded mozzarella. You know the cheese producers put something on that so the cheese doesn’t clump. Whatever it is, it dilutes flavor, or else they don’t use very good cheese to begin with. So make it with good cheese.

What’s NOT: the only thing I can say is that the slicing and slathering is a little bit fussy, but it doesn’t take all that much time. It’s fairly straight forward and you’ll have it ready in about 10-15 minutes max. You can probably do it ahead and refrigerate it (covered) for an hour or two. It might not even need refrigeration if you made it 2 hours ahead. Don’t quote me – don’t sue me! There’s no mayo in this, so it shouldn’t be a problem.

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Bloomin’ Pesto Mozzarella Bread

Recipe By: My daughter Sara’s recipe
Serving Size: 6-8

1 loaf white bread — round, unsliced
1 cup pesto sauce — fresh (jarred, or make your own)
12 ounces mozzarella cheese — shredded
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper.
2. Prepare the bread: Score the bread lengthwise as you would to slice the loaf into 1/2 to 3/4″ thick slices, but do not cut through the bottom. Turn the loaf a quarter turn, and slice the bread the other direction, but only slice it to about 1″ from the bottom. You’ll end up with a whole, round loaf of little towers or fingers of bread.
3. Use a spatula or butter knife to spread pesto in all the edges and crevices, down deep in the bread.
4. Sprinkle shredded mozzarella inside the all the nooks and crannies, pushing it in so that the cheese doesn’t melt off the edges/sides.
5. Transfer the loaf to the prepared baking sheet, and bake until the pesto is bubbly and the mozzarella is melted, 15 to 17 minutes. Serve warm.
Per Serving: 394 Calories; 33g Fat (74.4% calories from fat); 19g Protein; 6g Carbohydrate; 1g Dietary Fiber; 62mg Cholesterol; 533mg Sodium.

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